Nevada Newsmakers

News - August 8, 2022 - by Ray Hagar

Nevada's Nye County will to go to hand-counting of all-paper ballots for the 2022 general election and Democratic secretary of state nominee Cisco Aguilar roundly criticized the move on Nevada Newsmakers.

"What are the costs of implementing paper ballots, hand-counting, first of all?" he asked in an interview that was televised last Friday. "What are the priorities of the citizens of Nye County?

"You talk about education. You talk about the roads. You talk about infrastructure. You talk about healthcare," Aguilar told host Sam Shad. "Those things deserve investment, not spending every single dollar the county has on paper ballots and hand counting."

Aguilar said it is not the place of the secretary of state to tell individual counties how to run their elections, adding that he doubts all the voters in the county agree with the commissioners' move.

"It is not my responsibility as the secretary of state to tell the county how to run their county," Aguilar said. "They live there. They know it. They know what their priorities are. If this is a priority of all residents of Nye County, then go for it. But I can guarantee you there are citizens in Nye County who have different priorities that deserve investment."

Ironically, it was Aguilar's general-election opponent, Republican Jim Marchant, who helped sway the Nye County Commission into making the change and pitched the idea of hand counting paper ballots to other rural counties, according to the Nevada Current.

"We are here to recommend that you vote today to dispose of your electronic voting and tabulation machines and do not use them in any election going forward," Marchant told Nye commissioners earlier this year.

"Electronic systems have been shown repeatedly over a for a 25-year period to be completely unsecurable and not legitimately certifiable, which means that you cannot ensure that your constituents are able to vote using a fair and transparent voting and tabulation system," Marchant told commissioners.

Marchant has been invited to appear on Nevada Newsmakers but has not responded, Shad said. He has also been invited to debate Aguilar on the statewide program.

Nye County Clerk Sandra Merlino, whose office oversees county elections, followed her retirement plans and left office recently. Before leaving, Merlino, one of Nevada's longest-serving public officials -- warned hand-counting paper ballots is prone to error.

Merlino has been replaced -- by a vote of the commissioners -- by Mark Kampf, the 2020 GOP nominee for the post. Kampf is a former Nye County treasurer.

“I love my county," Merlino told the Nevada Current. "I love the people and I don’t want to see them fail. My hope truly is whoever gets in there is going to look at things and say, ‘oh, maybe this is not such a great idea.’ That’s what I am hoping for.”

Aguilar is also concerned about human errors in counting ballots. Nye County last used paper ballots in 2002, according to The Current, when the population of Nye County was about 15,000. Now it is more than 45,000. Yet when Nye used paper ballots 20 years ago, they were counted by a scanner, not by people.

"Humans make errors and the reason we've progressed as an economy here in the United States is that we've figured out how to build efficient systems," he said. "And here we're going backwards to build an inefficient system."

Nye County citizens can expect delays in voting results with the new system, former poll worker Earle Malkin wrote in a letter to editors of the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Even in a light-turnout election, counting wasn't completed until 3 a.m. the following day, Malkin wrote. Workers became exhausted after beginning their shifts when polls opened at 6 a.m. on Election Day. It made for a 21-hour day and added potential for errors.

"Therefore, all you Nye County voters, don’t expect your election results for some time after the polls close," Malkin wrote. "And best wishes to those who will be doing the counting. Stay awake and alert for 24 hours."

Election integrity

Aguilar said he was also concerned about the growing erosion of faith in the U.S. election system.

Former President Donald Trump brought the issue to the forefront when he alleged -- without substantive proof -- that the 2020 presidential election was rigged against him.

Trump has the backing of many Nevada Republicans on the issue. Marchant blamed his defeat in 2020 for Nevada's 4th U.S. House District on election fraud, according to news reports. Kampf, the new Nye County clerk, has denied Joe Biden is the legitimate president.

They are not alone. At least 120 election deniers have won primary elections nationwide in races for Congress (Senate or House), governor, attorney general and/or secretary of state, according to FiveThirtyEight research.

Yet destroying the faith in elections does not help Republicans nor Democrats, Aguilar said.

"It is one of the most sacred rights we have as citizens," Aguilar said of voting. "And to question that ... We are a participatory government and to take that participation factor out of it, just hurts everyone. It doesn't benefit anybody.

"I don't think it does (benefit either party) because  ... we want to ensure that every Nevadan expresses their opinion, their fundamental right to vote," Aguilar said.

"And so, I think they (election deniers) are driving away the folks that could actually benefit them in this election cycle," he said.

Rigging the national election would just be too big of a conspiracy to work, Aguilar suggested.

"It would not be happening (just) here in Nevada," Aguilar said. "It would be a situation throughout the country. Arizona just had their primaries and (Republican) Gov. Ducey came out and said that the elections are fair, they are strong and they are exactly what the citizens of Arizona expect and deserve. Gov. Ducey made that statement, so clear and unequivocally. I think goes to what we are trying to accomplish overall."

Aguilar said he takes inspiration to run clean and credible elections in Nevada from current Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske. The Republican from Las Vegas successfully stood up to the election deniers in 2020, even though they were members of her party, with some tarring her as a RINO (Republican In Name Only).

Cegavske, a former assemblywoman and state senator, is term-limited and cannot run for re-election.

"I think Secretary Cegavske deserves a big thank you for what she has done to protect all Nevadans," Aguilar said. "She is phenomenal. She put all of Nevadans first before party and that is a true guide for what the secretary of state needs to be. When I consider my role as a regulator within elections, I look to Barbara Cegavske as a leader."